May 11, 2017 09:08 AM

SB59 by Sen. Fred Mills would give healthcare providers direct access to wholesale drug prices

The Senate unanimously approved on Wednesday SB59 by Parks Sen. Fred Mills that will provide a level of drug price transparency that should help providers prescribe drugs that treat patients' ailments while being sensitive to the financial situation of the patient.

Mills, who is a pharmacist, says he introduced the original version of the bill at the request of health plans that were trying to impose mandates on the conduct of pharmaceutical sales reps. He spoke with The Independent by phone on Thursday morning.

Photo by Robin May

"It was a volatile bill," Mills says. "At first, the health plans and the pharmaceutical companies were at war over this bill."

Mills' Health and Welfare Committee approved the bill on May 3 but the two sides remained at loggerheads.

"I went to the health plans — and, really, Blue Cross and Blue Shield was the momentum behind the bill in that group — and asked them what they were trying to accomplish," Mills explains. "What they told me was that they wanted doctors in their plans to have more information about the pricing of the products."

Mills then approached the Louisiana Department of Health and asked them to provide wholesale drug pricing information in a spreadsheet format for two therapeutic categories, one of them was for treatment of high cholesterol. LDH used medicines included in its Medicaid formulary to populate the spreadsheet Mills had requested.

"What the spreadsheet showed was that the price range for cholesterol drugs ran from 6¢ per tablet to $9 per tablet," Mills continues. "I went to the health plans with the information. They said that was the kind of information they were after. I went to the pharmaceutical companies but they opposed that because the health plans still wanted to impose some mandates on what sales reps could and could not do."

"Finally, I gave each side 24 hours to come to an agreement on the proposal," Mills says. "When they couldn't reach an agreement, I wrote my own bill. We got agreement on it just before I went to the Senate floor with the bill yesterday."

What the bill provides for is that the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy will create a database that will show the per pill average wholesale drug costs for medicines by therapeutic category. The board database will be housed on a website that prescribers can access. Mills convinced the pharmaceutical companies to pay for the creation of the website.

The bill would allow drug sales reps to include information about the site in the literature they leave with providers but not mandate that they do so. Mills believes the primary marketing push to create awareness of the online database will come from the health plans.

"The bill provides that the professional licensing boards must inform their members of the existence of the website at least once a year," Mills says. "But, the real push is going to come from the health plans. I think they're going to market the heck out of this among the providers who are included in their plans."

"The purpose of the bill is to enable doctors and patients to have logical discussions about the cost of medicine," according to Mills. "Price is one component in the process of reaching the best therapeutic outcome."

Mills says he is optimistic about the bill's chances in the House. "I pledged to both sides that I would work to keep the bill clean," he tells The Independent. "I think the biggest challenge will be trying to avoid the bill picking up hitchhikers from people who don't like the pharmaceutical companies or from people who don't like the health plans."

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